Pirates closer Grilli gets first live work in exhibition loss to Twins

BRADENTON, Fla. — Jason Grilli clapped his hand into his glove Friday afternoon and jogged off the diamond at McKechnie Field into the dugout, another inning down.

The inning was his first live work in a game this spring, and it was a clean 1-2-3 outing for the Pirates closer, who at 37 has endured what seems like a lifetime of spring trainings.

“Feels good to get on the bump and see all the hard work come into effect,” said Grilli, who worked a scoreless third in a 6-5 loss to the Minnesota Twins. “Fastball command, you mix in some off-speed. Try to make it as real as possible. That’s what these games are for.”

And truly, his role is a known quantity as the team’s closer.

“We feel very confident with him finishing up ballgames for us. It’s one of his first springs where he hasn’t had to make the club, in all reality,” said manager Clint Hurdle. “He has worked extremely hard. All the work that’s been done back here … he’s hungry. He’s a pro.”

Grilli threw his first two pitches for strikes and got Kurt Suzuki to fly out, struck out Jason Bartlett swinging, and got a ground out to shortstop from Alex Presley.

The club spent some time trying to maximize how to best schedule Grilli’s work this spring, with an eye on keeping him fresh.

Grilli had 33 saves last year, but missed a key stretch with a flexor strain in his right arm.

“[Pitching coach Ray Searage] has had a conservative plan, really, for the four relievers who pitched the most meaningful innings late in games last year,” said general manager Neal Huntington, pointing out that relievers Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson have all thrown just twice. “It’s not like Jason is that far off. He threw the ball well, aggressive, had spin on the breaking ball. It was a good first outing.”

Given the kind of journey to the big leagues Grilli has endured, he has learned how to best prepare for the season.

“Just get through it. It’s rather long, lengthy,” Grilli said. “Guys work tremendously hard in the offseason. We all have training programs we could probably make infomercials and sell DVDs on. We’re probably overly prepared for spring training. It’s the new M.O. … You can see everybody here is ready to go. It’s awesome to see.”

The club has not revealed when his next game appearance will be, but Hurdle said he will be sent to minor league camp at some point to pitch multiple innings, and he’ll get the same amount of work as he got last year.

“He’s in a good place,” Hurdle said. “I think he’s going to get pretty much the same amount of innings as he got last spring; we’ve just kind of set it up differently.”

Grilli called it “plenty” more.

“I’ll have plenty more to get ready — continually build,” he said. “It’s not hard to try and train for 15 pitches. I mean, I probably throw more during the day throwing practice drills. I know my limits, know my limitations and I’ll get the handful of outings I need, just like I did last year.”

Taking a crack at it

The Pirates will get to test out instant replay for the first time Wednesday in a 1:05 p.m. game against the Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.

Familiar face

Presley, a former Pirate, was the leadoff batter Friday for the Twins. He singled off of Wandy Rodriguez to open the game, but was thrown out one pitch later by Russell Martin attempting to steal second. Presley was dealt in the trade that brought Justin Morneau from Minnesota in September.

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @JennMenendez.

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